There are so many reasons to visit Mexico with so much to see and do. You'll find modern luxury resorts, untouched natural reserves, gorgeous beaches, fascinating ancient sites, beautiful colonial architecture, colorful festivals, and rich cultural traditions. This guide will help you with trip planning so you can narrow down the destinations and attractions in Mexico that best fit your interests.
A good place to start your trip to Mexico is in the heart of the country, the nation's capital, and a huge, vibrant city, where ancient meets modern. Since the Benito Juarez airport in Mexico City is the busiest airport in the country, it's easy to find flights there and a convenient spot to begin your explorations.
No matter what you want to do in Mexico City, don't miss Mexico City's top sights, including the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park, containing the most important collection of Mesoamerican artifacts in the world. Another must-see is the Basilica de Guadalupe, located on the hill where the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, appeared to Juan Diego. Inside the Basilica, as pilgrims often make their way to the altar on their knees, you can see the original mantle of Juan Diego with her miraculous image on it.
A good way to get to know the historical center is by taking a walking tour. When your feet get tired, hop on the Turibus to enjoy the sights from a different perspective. And when hunger strikes, head for a great meal, perhaps at one of the best restaurants in the world such as Pujol, headed up by Mexico City native Chef Enrique Olvera. Pujol, with its creative cuisine, was ranked the number 13 restaurant in the world in 2018. Another restaurant receiving high accolades is Quintonil, where the fresh produce used in its dishes is often sourced from the chef's own garden.
Mexico City is an excellent destination for travelers on a tight budget, too. There are lots of activities you can do for free such as strolling the parks, going to the zoo, and perusing the markets (the Mercado de la Ciudadela has folk art and crafts from all the regions of Mexico).
Mexico City gets a bad rap; it's not as dangerous as many people think. However, like in any big city, you should be sure to take general safety precautions against theft.
Relax on a Mexican Beach
AddressQuintana Roo, Mexico
With nearly 6,000 miles (9,330 kilometers) of coastline and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Mexico entices all those who enjoy sea and sand.
If you'd like to avoid the beaten path, you might want to consider some of the unknown beach destinations in Mexico like some of the small beach towns on the Costa Maya or Baja California. And if you prefer to enjoy your beach time in your birthday suit rather than a bathing suit, you might be interested in Mexico's nude beaches and resorts like the adults-only Grand Oasis Sens where topless sunbathing is the norm or the over-the-top sexy Temptation Resort in Cancun, an adults-only, all-inclusive resort touted as "The Playground for Grown-Ups." The beach at Zipolite in Oaxaca, where they have an annual Nudist Festival, is more low-key and appeals to backpacker-types.
Mexico's beaches are very popular among spring breakers, especially Cancun, but if you want to enjoy a trip away from hordes of college students, you may want to beat the spring break crowds by avoiding college spring break weeks and going to more sedate attractions such as museums and botanical gardens.
Stay in Colonial Cities
AddressGuadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Mexico's colonial history marked the collision of two very different cultures. This period witnessed great destruction but also gave rise to a flowering of art and architecture. Many cities in Mexico retain their colonial town plan, cobblestone streets, and beautiful colonial architecture.
You can step into the past on your visit to Mexico by staying in a beautifully restored historic hotel in most any town. Even beach towns will usually have a historic church and colonial plaza.
Or, visit one of these lovely and fascinating colonial cities, many of which have been recognized by UNESCO as a heritage of humanity cities.
- Guadalajara, Jalisco, the birthplace of mariachi and tequila, is Mexico's second biggest city and has plenty of museums and historical sites to keep tourists busy.
- Merida, Yucatan, known as the "white city," has a vibrant cultural scene and is a great spot from which to explore the archaeological sites and natural attractions of the Yucatan Peninsula.
- Morelia, Michoacan has elegant buildings made out of pink quarry stone and is a destination for people who enjoy colonial architecture and local culture. Most will also enjoy strolling through Morelia's lovely plazas and gardens.
- Puebla, Puebla, is renowned for its Talavera pottery, but its historical center is chock-full of beautiful colonial buildings. It's also the home of the chile en nogada, Mexico's national dish.
- Oaxaca, Oaxaca is a destination that combines gorgeous colonial architecture with colorful traditions, beautiful handicrafts, and delicious cuisine.
- Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico's silver capital, is a charming colonial town set in the mountains south of Mexico City.
Visit Ancient Sites
AddressChichén-Itzá, Yucatan, Mexico
Mexico was home to some of the world's great ancient civilizations. The Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mayas, and Aztecs left their imprint on the land and their descendants can be seen throughout Mexico. Visiting these ancient cities and temples fills the visitor with wonder at these ancient cultures. Mexico's ancient civilizations have left behind a wealth of art, artifacts, and places to visit.
Mexico is among the top five most biodiverse countries in the world. Its amazing biodiversity makes Mexico an ideal destination for appreciating nature.
You can release baby sea turtles on the beach, go swimming with whale sharks, or explore the second largest coral reef in the world. From the monarch butterfly reserves of Michoacan and excellent opportunities for birding in Oaxaca to the Yucatan Peninsula and whale watching in Baja California, Mexico offers plenty for nature lovers to see and do.
Go on an Adventure
AddressRiviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico
There are lots of opportunities to practice water sports and adventure tourism in Mexico. Get your adrenaline rushing as you zip-line through the jungle or explore an underground river. You can learn to surf or enjoy a bird's eye view of the beach and ocean as you parasail.
The world's second largest coral reef is just off the Riviera Maya, making it a perfect destination for scuba diving or snorkeling. If you're more interested in activities on land, consider exploring the Copper Canyon.
Consider some active adventures that will make your trip to Mexico unforgettable.
So much more than just tacos, Mexican cuisine is diverse and delicious. A visit to Mexico can offer the opportunity to explore beyond the Tex-Mex fare which many people consider "Mexican food." Try mole, chiles rellenos, quesillo, tlayudas, and tamales and let your taste buds experience flavors they never knew existed. And don't forget to wash it down with your choice of tequila, mezcal, or pulque.
Shop for Handicrafts
Mexico's beautiful handicrafts and folk art are the results of skill and knowledge that have been passed down through generations. Many visitors to Mexico end up with bags twice as heavy on their return trip!
Get to Know the People and Culture
Mexicans are proud of their roots and traditions: It's evident in the way they carry out their daily activities as well as in the way they celebrate important occasions.
Important holidays in Mexico include:
Catch a Big One
With over 6,000 miles of coastline and more than 500 types of fish in Mexican waters, even newbies like to go fishing and can take a charter boat out for some deep sea fishing. Baja Sur, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta are long-time haunts for sports fishers. The sought-after marlin, huge tuna, and red snapper are plentiful and are likely to make it onto the grill at your fishing-friendly resort.
Some resorts, including those on the beach in Los Cabos, help guests do some surf fishing and provide poles, instruction and even cook the catch.
Taxco de Alarcon, a beautiful colonial town in the mountains of Guerrero state, is also known as Mexico's silver capital. The quaint cobblestone streets lead you through whitewashed historic buildings, churches and silver workshops. You can find beautiful silver designs in the jewelry shops, workshops, and from street vendors. For scenery, take the cable car to the Christ of Cerro Atachi where you can enjoy the view of the town and surrounding countryside.
You can get to the source of this agave-based drink in Jalisco where you'll see fields of blue agave. Tequila can only be produced in this region, which besides the state of Jalisco also includes parts of the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. This World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in 2006 has a unique natural landscape and cultural traditions. You can see how the agave plant is harvested, how Tequila is made and also do a tasting.
All-inclusive resorts are popular with vacationers in Mexico. Some are adults only but others have activities for all family members. You can choose from amenity-filled all-inclusive resorts on the white beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula or head for places like Cabo San Lucas, known for sport fishing and golf resorts.
Families will find something for all ages, kid's clubs, and dining options pleasing even the pickiest of eaters at places like Moon Palace Cancun which has family activities like mini-golf, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and cycling around the resort. Adults can play golf or head to the adults-only pool.
Sandos Caracol Eco Experience Resort is known for having one of the most spectacular resort water parks in Mexico.
Older children (13–17 is ideal) and parents alike can get rock star treatment at the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta and even play an electric guitar in their suite. There are music-oriented group activities as well as relaxing resort amenities.
You can ride with a guide into the backcountry or kick back at the pool at a luxury ranch and go for an evening horseback ride to see the sunset. Each Mexican guest ranch has its special amenities but what they have in common is that you'll get a chance to go riding.
Ranch vacations at places like Rancho Puesto del Sol, 50 miles north of Mexico City, is an all-inclusive ranch surrounded by three waterfalls and beautiful countryside. On this horseback riding vacation guests enjoy the scenery and riding in an area that has no fences.
Rancho Los Baños (ranch of the springs) is a 30,000-acre working cattle ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Madres, 55 miles south of the Arizona border. While you can relax and get away from it all, this ranch will also give you an authentic cowboy experience as well as provide a beautiful natural area for hiking.
A cenote is a deep, water-filled sinkhole created when the roof of an underground cavern collapses. A natural pool is created with spring water and rainwater. You'll find caves, underground rivers, and cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula where the ground is primarily made up of limestone. And you'll hear tales of the Mayan people using sinkholes as a place for sacrificial rituals, but now cenotes are popular with visitors who come to swim and dive and explore these deep, natural swimming holes.
One of the most popular is the Gran Cenote in Tulum located on the road between Tulum and Cobá archaeological sites.
Mariachi music originated in Guadalajara and it's the best place to hear authentic mariachi music. In fact, Guadalajara has an international mariachi competition. When you visit the traditional place to see and hear Mariachis is at the Plaza de Los Mariachis. Sit at a local cafe, sip a drink and watch the locals choose a mariachi band for their special occasion. Request the song "Guadalajara" so you can have a truly traditional experience (mariachis charge by the song, so have some pesos handy).
Whales head to the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur (BCS) to have their calves and this area is known internationally for the huge cetaceans that visitors can see there. In fact, the Sea of Cortez was coined “the world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau.
The whales you’re most likely to spot in the waters off of BCS include gray whales, humpbacks, blue whales, and whale sharks. But there are times you can see Orca and other species.
Lucha Libre wrestling is all the rage in Mexico City. You'll see street vendors selling the colorful masks the wrestlers are known for. Lucha Libre involves athletic men, and even a few women, performing wild antics in a ring and extending the craziness outside the ring and getting the crowd all riled up, too. It's worth seeing this cultural "performance" for a bit of fun.
There are three arenas in Mexico City where you can see Lucha Libre but for the uninitiated, taking a tour is the most fun. Tours usually include transportation, your ticket, and possibly some other goodies like shots of tequila and a mask.
Snorkeling and SCUBA diving are must do's when visiting Mexico's beach destinations. There are colorful fish to see as close as your resort's shoreline. SCUBA diving requires special training and complicated equipment, but just about anyone can snorkel. There are boat excursions to get you to special snorkeling spots.
Some of the most popular places to snorkel are Cozumel, just off the coast of the Riviera Maya, and inland places like the spring-fed Cenote Dos Ojos, north of Tulum, made up of two sinkholes that are connected by a long, narrow cavern that you can swim through.
Mexico City's grand Fine Arts Theater, "Palacio de Bellas Artes," is the place to see a performance of the "Ballet Folklórico de México," featuring dances in traditional dress from the regions of Mexico. Performances are generally held three times a week.
The beautiful theater, completed in 1934, contains murals by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo.